A resolution by a world gathering of religious leaders has highlighted the “danger of religion being hijacked and misused for non-religious goals.”

The resolution underscored that “blaming an entire community for the actions of a few strengthens and emboldens” those who commit acts of violence “in the name of religion.” Those directly responsible should be punished for their actions that should not “be used as an excuse to oppress wider religious communities with which the perpetrators assert ties.”

This proclamation was part of an eight-point resolution adopted at the end of the Eighth World Congress of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), held in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Florida, Tuesday to Thursday, 22 to 24 August, 2017.

The Cayman Islands was represented among the more than 550 attendees from 65 countries and six continents attending the Congress that “brought together experts and delegates to discuss the contribution that freedom of religion or belief can make to sustainable, peaceful co-existence,” the IRLA said in a communique.

Seventh-day Adventist delegates attending from the Cayman Islands were Pastor Shion O’Connor, President of the Cayman Islands Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Mr. John Wesley, Treasurer of the Conference; and Mr. Dennis Brady, Director of the Conference’s Religious Liberty Department.

The Eighth Congress, the first to be held in North America, was the most internationally diverse yet, the organisers said, noting in its Congress communique: “Our attendees, guests, and presenters … spanned the spectrum of belief and non-belief Baptists, Jews, Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonites, Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox, Agnostics, and others.”

The Congress’ resolution encouraged “clergy, educators, and others—in addition to legal experts—to emphasize and teach that freedom of religion or belief is both an important legal right and a crucial societal value that is to be protected in all aspects of civic life.”

The gathering of the world religious leaders coincides with a time, the communique said, of declining perceptions “in popular consciousness” of the importance of religion and increasing perceptions of the conflicting impacts of other rights and interests that “unduly limit freedom of religion and belief.” In addition, organisers quoted sources reporting that more than three-quarters of the “world’s population lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.”

“Striking the appropriate balance between competing interests and concerns remains a problem,” the Congress communique opined.

As the Congress gathered to grapple with these apprehensions, United Nations’ and other world religious liberty leaders signalled their support of the work of the IRLA with formal messages to the Congress. Messages were received from the Honourable Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief; Ambassador Robert A. Seiple, the first United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; United States Ambassador John R. Nay, President of the IRLA; and, Knox Thames, Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia at the United States Department of State.

Meanwhile, government officials from seven countries—Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, and Zambia—attended the Congress, organisers reported.

Among the faith leaders who addressed the Congress were the Rev. César García, General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference; Dr. Ted N.C. Wilson, President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Dr. Elizabeta Kitanovi , Executive Secretary of the Conference of European Churches; and the Rev. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, chairman of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.
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The full text of the eight-point resolution adopted on August 24, 2017, is as follows:

“Through this Resolution, the Eighth IRLA World Congress:

1.Calls upon the nations of the world to promote actively the principles of freedom of religion or belief as elaborated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the body of related international and regional human rights instruments through their constitutions, laws, and through practical implementation of these globally shared ideals.

2.Calls upon the people of the world to reacquaint themselves with the foundational human rights documents and first principles in order to emphasize the importance of freedom of religion or belief in the broader constellation of rights.

3.Encourages clergy, educators, and others–in addition to legal experts — to emphasize and teach that freedom of religion or belief is, both an important legal right, and a crucial societal value that is to be protected in all aspects of civic life.

4.Requests the IRLA to continue to identify concrete ways for individuals and its local chapters to engage in religious freedom advocacy, ensuring that such advocacy is sensitive to both context and situation.

5.Encourages national and international actors to avoid stereotyping of any groups or individuals based on prejudices, preconceptions, or assumptions.

6.Recognizes that while violence is sometimes perpetrated in the name of religion, such violence should be countered by punishing those directly responsible, and should not be used as an excuse to oppress wider religious communities with which the perpetrators assert ties; blaming an entire community for the actions of a few strengthens and emboldens those who perpetuate violence in the name of religion.

7.Encourages religious and other leaders to recognize the danger of religion being hijacked and misused for non-religious goals, and encourages religious leaders and believers to take steps to prevent this happening within their own communities.

8.Authorizes the broad distribution of this resolution to international institutions, religious and civil society organizations, and to supporters of freedom of religion or belief worldwide.”

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